Hating the Olympics: Even Lamer Than the Olympics

BROOMFIELD, CO - FEBRUARY 27:  Kris Perkovich ...

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The Winter Olympics are nearly upon us. I happen to subscribe to the totally square notion that the Olys remain—in spite of the gargantuan hoo-hah of stupidness that surrounds them—a Great Festival of Sporting Life, but I do dread a number of the tiresome rituals that come along with the Games. Figure skating, for example; soft-focus features on heartbreaking stories of athletic and spiritual fortitude, for another. The most irritating set-pieces of all, however, are the inevitable I Hate the Olympics treatises dusted off by disgruntled (and alleged) sports pundits every time an obscure foreign athlete of yesteryear trots by bearing a torch aloft.

Hating the Olympics is kind of like hating the Holiday Season: you can make a plausible and defensible case for doing so, and maybe this view indicates some kind of cynical, hard-bitten street cred. Peace? Joy? Santa? You can’t fool me, pal—this iron-minded American was NOT born yesterday. I mean, fine, but whatever. In many cases, the polemicists in question rail against that of which they know not. Chuck Klosterman’s contribution to the genre, written for Esquire before the Beijing Games, is a case in point. Now, considered in full, Klosterman’s piece is rather subtle and provocative. Unfortunately, before he spits out the thesis, he has to go and take swipes at a bunch of Olympic sports, most prominently fencing:

We’re all supposed to take inspiration from Sada Jacobson, who (I’m told) is the world’s number-one female saber fencer, which is kind of like being the world’s number-one Real World/ Road Rules Challenge participant.

Nice. I find it both weird and ironic that a piece that argues against thoughtless and unexamined sports fandom looks to score its cheap ha-has through thoughtless and unexamined shots at a sport. Fencing may not be a huge topic of discussion on American sports podcasts but it does, as a matter of fact, have thousands of participants and fans and a history that goes back to, oh, approximately the beginning of time. (On a personal note, I spent about six months trying to learn how to fence and failing miserably. You can read all about this misadventure, if you’re interested. Suffice it to say that the shit is hard, and anyone who takes it lightly should try it some time.)

At least Klosterman has a decent ultimate point to make. Lesser examples of the anti-Olympics line usually boil down to some version of Weird Sports Played By Foreign People Are Dumb. Where is everyone’s sense of adventure, for God’s sake? Is it really so hard to see what’s cool about speed skating, biathlon or any of the other introverted, extraterrestrial nerd-sports that ask nothing but a few minutes of our time every four years? Can any global event that features a charming, sociable, wooly-minded pursuit like curling really be all bad?

Many aspects of the Olympics are galling and silly, but those same elements also tend to be funny and entertaining in their own right. Which team will wear the most hideous Opening Ceremony outfit? Which warm-weather nation will take the most severe hiding in women’s hockey? What kind of bitchy psychodrama will skating offer up this year?

All I know is, if curling is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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About zachdundas

Freelance journalist. Author of The Renegade Sportsman (Riverhead Books). Thank you.
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11 Responses to Hating the Olympics: Even Lamer Than the Olympics

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Hating the Olympics: Even Lamer Than the Olympics - Zach Dundas - Renegade Sportsman - True/Slant -- Topsy.com

  2. tsieling says:

    Living in the current host city, I can say that hating the olympics is not really like hating the holidays.

    The holidays don’t displace the poor, introduce free speech zones, dispatch the police to interrupt unauthorized brands, divert 6 billion in public money during a recession to a 2-week marketing orgy while funding to the arts in the province is cut by up to 80% or more in one year, and I can go on and on.

    The irony is that Vancouver isn’t a winter city. It’s near mountains that get snow, but it’s a rainforest climate. We’re not seeing snow stored and trucked in, even airlifted. If that kind of absurdity and the horrendous social and environmental costs it incurs are what it takes for us to have something to smile at, we’re a very lost people indeed.

    • Zach Dundas says:

      Ah, public policy? Yes, agreed: the Olympics are invariably bad public policy. Terrible public policy, no matter where they are held. Almost all major-league sporting events are bad public policy—that’s just a given. I was talking about the Olympics as a televised sporting event, a different metric altogether.

  3. Steve Weinberg says:

    Hating the Olympic Games is not necessarily the province of fools. “Hating” is perhaps too strong a word for my dismay about the Olympics, but as an extreme Pacifist I’m painfully conflicted about the Olympics, those held in the summers and those held in the winters.

    Why? Because I’ve watched more people than I can count follow the Olympics while infected with blind nationalism. For those Olympic fans, gold medals won by U.S.A. athletes equate with good, gold medals won by “our enemies” from evil nations equate with bad. Blind nationalism is a leading scourge of humanity, so I become upset with any event promoting (intentionally or unintentionally) such hate mongering.

  4. Zach Dundas says:

    Sport is about many things. One of those things is partisanship. There are degrees and flavors of partisanship, as there are of most things, including (I’m sure) pacifism. To equate support for a sports team, national or not, or interest in a sporting event based on national teams, with “hatemongering” is wildly simplistic. By that standard, all competitive sport is in the wrong.

    • Steve Weinberg says:

      Your disagreement about the conjunction of nation-based sports competitions and destructive nationalism is no surprise to me. I realize I’m probably in the minority with my thinking. But please don’t impute to me “wildly simplistic” thinking on this matter. You wrote about the Olympics, and the Olympics seems to qualify as an especially virulent example. I would write with much less passion on this topic, for example, if you had posted about Davis Cup tennis, which is also a nation-based sports competition.

      • Zach Dundas says:

        I apologize if my phrasing seemed dismissive. I appreciate your contribution to the conversation. However, the use of the phrase “hatemongering” to describe more or less normal fan behavior still strikes me as equally over-blown.

  5. raincoaster says:

    I only WISH I could see the Olympics as a sporting event, the way I did growing up. Unfortunately along with tsieling and the rest of the Lower Mainland, I have heard about and been wrapped up in so many Olympic-related political battles that I just have no more heart for the games themselves. And god knows, I was never going to be able to afford a ticket.

    I remember being glued to the tv when the Olympics were on, all the way to Nagano. But the heavy-handed actions of the IOC and VANOC mean that not one single Vancouverite can enjoy the games AS games, without a lobotomy. Fortunately, our socialized medicine will pay for it.

    • Zach Dundas says:

      I’m sure that living in a host city is a political and logistical nightmare. No argument there. I still think that’s a bit outside the parameters of the original post.

      • raincoaster says:

        Oh, agreed 100%. My post was basically the anguished cry of lost innocence. I wish I could see it in terms of a sporting event, and I’m bitter at the organization that’s made it impossible for me to do so.

        Essentially, I envy you.

  6. Pingback: Olympic Torch Ride-Along Live (well, undead) Blog « raincoaster

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